President Ian Khama has for the first time openly expressed fear that the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) is in a precarious and delicate state ahead of the 2019 General Elections. The confession came on Friday during Khama's address to the 5th National Council, where he appealed to candidates for central committee positions at the upcoming July congress to agree on compromise candidates in order to promote party unity and cohesion. “I wish to ask all to encourage the candidates standing in each position to meet and agree on only one of them standing,” he appealed. Clearly disturbed, Khama who is serving the last year on his Presidential term said he is worried that after the National Council tension will escalate as candidates jostle for positions ahead of the elective congress. “The moment we depart Gaborone tension will rise as aspirants tussle for delegates to national congress, a situation which if not handled carefully may revive factionalism with its worrisome implications for our cohesion,” said the worried BDP President. Contrary to Khama's past hardline stance against those who fail to tow the line, frequently threatening them with suspension or expulsion if they don’t adhere to party rules, on Friday he was different. He was unusually more reconciliatory than punitive and appealed for calm. Khama called on the BDP members to try and resolve their internal challenges and cautioned that if they are not careful they will lose office. “It is the BDP that can through self-inflicted harm lose office,” warned Khama. The BDP split in 2010 after Khama suspended and expelled some party leaders mostly associated with Barata phathi faction including Secretary General Gomolemo Motswaledi. Those expelled, including those who supported them, left to form Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD) which has joined forces with other opposition parties to attempt to wrestle government from BDP. The BDP has been in power for 51 years. Khama's call for compromise is consistent with allegations that last year he tried unsuccessfully to convince Vice President Mokgweetsi Masisi to consider not defending his position as party chairman. The latter declined. Masisi will be pitted against the MP for Selibe Phikwe East Nonofo Molefhi who is said to be enjoying support from many BDP MPs. During the introduction of Central Committee members at the National Council, Molefhi received a standing ovation as the whole hall erupted into ululations, with some clad in T-shirts written ‘Party e Nonofhile’.
Democrats defy Khama
Even as Khama was calling for compromise, democrats from competing campaign teams were throwing salvos at each other in different platforms. No sooner had Khama stepped down from the podium on Friday than outspoken Francistown West MP Ignatius Moswaane was dismissing calls for compromise. He declared that he does not support the advice. “We should allow democrats to exercise their democratic rights and vote for the candidates of their own choice rather than imposing people on them,” he said. Moswaane, who revealed that he supports Molefhi for the chairmanship and will also submit his name for additional member in July, said his reading of developments in the party is that a compromise strategy has never worked for the BDP but has on the contrary proved to be disastrous in the past. He blames the poor performance by the party at the 2014 polls squarely on the composition of the central committee, which was made up of members appointed on compromise. Another BDP member who will contest a Central Committee position said he will not accept compromise. “What is on the table for us? Why didn’t they start at the recent women’s wing congress where they performed well,” he asked rhetorically.
The removal of Jacob Nkate from the lobby list of the Masisi camp has thrown the race for the Secretary General wide open, with more candidates emerging from the woods ahead of the July congress. Former SG Mpho Balopi has thrown his hat in the mix, joining the Masisi camp to have a second bite at the cherry. He is seeking election to a post he previously held after he was roped into the Central Committee in 2011. Before being appointed SG, the closest Balopi had come to the leadership of the party was a membership of the finance sub-committee of the central committee, although he claims to have been active behind the scenes. During his tenure Balopi failed to deliver on a promise he made when he assumed office, to re-brand the BDP into a formidable organisation by bringing all party structures - cells, wards, branches, constituencies and the central committee - to work together as a united force. Balopi's come back faces tough opposition from disgruntled members who partly blame him for the decline of the party, which saw it garner only 46% popular vote at the 2014 polls. Notwithstanding rejection from rivals, it is clear that there are those within the BDP who support Balopi for the position. Internal bickering, which is gaining momentum by the day as the July congress fast approaches, has been taken to social media by some members who have been trading harsh words. While those in support of him feel that Balopi should be allowed to contest, those against Balopi's candidacy have vowed to humiliate and bury him, should he try. "How do you entrust the BDP with a fellow who oversaw four years of decline? 46% popularity at the general polls and the 37 MPs is directly attributable to Mpho Balopi. Imagine now going to a hotly contested 2019 with a candidate who uses branding to fabricate intelligence," hit out a former office bearer at Tsholetsa house. Once Khama's blue-eyed boy, Balopi is exploiting the fallout with Nkate to revive his political career. Nkate's main undoing, which rubbed his former camp the wrong way, observers say, was miscalculating and openly declaring that he will challenge Masisi for the party presidency in 2018. Vice President Mokgweetsi Masisi – who will succeed Khama as Head of State in April 2018 – is defending the party chairmanship against cabinet minister Nonofo Molefhi. While Masisi is riding on incumbency and utilising resources at his disposal to canvas support, Molefhi has promised to resign his cabinet post to focus on leading the party and rebuilding structures ahead of the highly contested 2019 general elections. Several attempts to reach Balopi failed as his cellphone was not answered. As the fight for the soul of BDP enters the final lap, there has been unusual silence from Botsalo Ntuane – the current SG who was elected in Mmadinare two years ago. While there is speculation that he may seek re-election, there are strong suggestions that he is on his way out in search of greener pastures. Assistant Minister of Presidential Affairs and Public Administration Philip Makgalemele is also eyeing the SG post. The BDP suffered the most humiliating loss of popularity in history at the 2014 general elections and in subsequent by-elections. The poor performance was preceded by purging of those aggrieved by the outcome of Bulela Ditswe 2013.
Bulela ditswe crisis
Since the introduction of open primary elections, dubbed Bulela Ditswe, the BDP has been grappling with growing divisions characterised by dissent from losing contestants and their supporters. After 2013 Bulela Ditswe many candidates who lost primary elections, and were unhappy with the decision of central committee either turned protest voters by not participating in elections, defected to opposition parties or supported and stood as independent candidates. Former Tonota MP Pono Moatlhodi, who lost to current minister of youth Thapelo Olopeng in Bulela Ditswe, was the fiercest critic of the rigged primaries. After his appeal was dismissed by Tsholetsa house, Moatlhodi defected to Botswana National Front (BNF). Elsewhere in Lentsweletau-Mmopane constituency former area MP Moeng Pheto contested as an independent candidate after a surprise defeat to trade minister Vincent Seretse. One of the constituencies that revolted against the party in 2014 was Tlokweng after the preferred candidate Elijah Katse was suspended by Khama paving the way for Olebile Gaborone. The latter lost dismally to the late Same Bathobakae of the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC). This time around, Katse will represent the BDP in the upcoming by-election. With all these Bulela Ditswe deficiencies the end result was a significant drop in popular vote for the BDP at the 2014 polls. Khama is alive to these challenges, and warned that this has resulted in those disenfranchised either staying home or donating their votes to the opposition. In 2015 BDP appointed former cabinet minister Peter Siele to lead a commission to investigate grievances raised against Bulela Ditswe and suggest reforms. On Friday, Khama made a startling revelation that some office bearers hide registration books of members who do not support their preferred candidate to deny them a chance to vote in Bulela Ditswe. “Disturbingly, the exercise appears to be in the capture of vested interests with designs and firm focus on Bulela Ditswe. This state of affairs is unacceptable and requires an effective solution now,” he said.